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Stories about hope and ways to share hope

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Jessica Cox

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“Obviously, I had to come to terms very quick. I couldn’t hide away, but I did have prosthetics for 11 years and I often talk about how wearing prosthetics, in a way, it normalized me but after 11 years, first day of eighth grade, I was 14 and I decided I would leave them behind and I walk to the bus stop without them. And when I walked on, the bus door shut. I felt lighter and free and more me, the person that God created me to be and I promised I would never wear them again. To this day, they remain in the closet.”
— Jessica Cox

Born without arms, Jessica Cox could have succumbed to the low expectations that ushered her into this world. In spite of them all she graduated from college, learned to swim, drive a car, surf, scuba dive, fly an airplane, become a Taekwondo State Champion, and live independently using her feet in ways others who take their hands for granted can only imagine. She holds the title of the first person without arms to get a black belt in ATA Martial Arts and the Guinness World Record for the first pilot to fly with her feet. Yet, her greatest triumph in life stands far above any physical feat. It is her unrepentant regard for herself as a whole person, her high degree of self acceptance that gives her the freedom and power to insist that society accept her, too, just as she is.



 

18: Jessica Cox – Handsfree Hope – #isharehope

“Obviously, I had to come to terms very quick. I couldn’t hide away, but I did have prosthetics for 11 years and I often talk about how wearing prosthetics, in a way, it normalized me but after 11 years, first day of eighth grade, I was 14 and I decided I would leave them behind and I walk to the bus stop without them. And when I walked on, the bus door shut. I felt lighter and free and more me, the person that God created me to be and I promised I would never wear them again. To this day, they remain in the closet.” -Jessica Cox

Intro:

Welcome to I Share Hope! The podcast where world leaders share their real stories of hope and how you can use actionable hope to start changing your life today and now here’s your host, Chris Williams.

Chris Williams:

This is a fine episode for me. On hold right now is Jessica Cox. Now, Jessica is somebody that’s really, really amazing. She’s done an enormous amount of stuff. She’s an airplane pilot, she’s a Guinness World Record holder, she’s had economic summits internationally, she’s spoken in the White House, she is a black belt in Taekwondo, she’s a scuba diver, a swimmer, she drives a car, she has a college education, she’s written two books and she has no arms.

Jessica was born without arms and done way more than most people that you or I know. Jessica, here’s how this works, I’ve already explained this but just so our listeners can hear again, we ask you the five questions about hope and you answer them however you like. This is a huge 1000-person worldwide research project about hope, so thanks for being one of our world leaders.

Question 1 – What’s your definition or your favorite quote about hope?

Jessica Cox:

When I think about hope, I think about someone or something that makes it easier to do something in life. For me personally, something that makes life a little easier, smoother in some way or another. It doesn’t have to be a person, it could be something as well.

Chris Williams:

So something that smooth out the bumps? That’s a good definition and nobody has said anything like that yet. That’s really great. Something that takes the rough spots out of life. Is that a good way to summarize what you’re saying?

Jessica Cox:

Yes.

Chris Williams:

Okay.

Question 2 – Who has shared the most hope with you in your life? Who has been a great giver of hope to you? If that’s your definition, who’s done that for you?

Jessica Cox:

For me, one of the people who gave me great hope was my mentor. Being someone who was born with a disability, I was born without arms, I didn’t know what kind of life had in store for me. One day I remember seeing a TV piece about a woman who didn’t have arms and it was the first time in my life who I met someone or actually seen someone who’s in the same situation as me. But even more amazing was the fact that she was living a very happy life. She was married, she had two sons, one of them was a baby and there’s a video of her changing his diapers. For me as a teenager, that was a person of hope for me. That answered all my questions. Would I be able to get married? Would I be able to have kids? Could I take care of children?

Those few seconds of that TV piece, I immediately connected with this woman and she, for me, demonstrated hope.

Chris Williams:

That’s really cool. Is she still your mentor? Do you have a relationship with her?

Jessica Cox:

Yes she is still my mentor. We’re still friends. We text once in a while. We’re in different cities, but we do connect whenever we can.

Chris Williams:

You know I think a lot of us feel like, when we’re in a really hard situation, whatever that may be, there’s nobody like me or there’s nobody that gets this. There’s nobody that’s had this bad of a day. There’s nobody that would understand the bad relationship or the addiction or the depression or the physical issue, but there are. There’s a lot of people in the planet. There’s usually somebody who had done this and has come out pretty good with it and has gotten ahead, so great point. I think mentors are so important.

Question 3 – Tell me a story. Take us back to a time, kind of walk us through life when and how have you had to use hope to really pull you through? What’s been back there that you just really had to lean on hope for?

Jessica Cox:

When I think about my own situation and the way that I deal with the rest of the world, now my family who accepts me as I am and they don’t see me as being any different, as someone with disability, they don’t see me as someone who needs help, they just see me as Jessica, one of the family. When I go out into the world, people react in different ways when they see that I don’t have arms. Some people don’t know how to react, some people are curious, some people feel uncomfortable, some people, it reminds them of their own vulnerability, there’s a whole gamut of reactions to people on seeing me and reacting.

I feel that for me, when I am able to show them the things that I can do and I get these reactions from people around, in some way or form, it’s hope. For the longest time though, I used to absolutely hate, disdained having this reaction, having to be different, having people look at me or stare at me or take that second glance or just sometimes look past me. I realized though it could be truly an instrument in sharing hope in the same way that other people have given me hope just like my mentor I mentioned.

Chris Williams:

You were born without arms. Is that correct?

Jessica Cox:

Yes.

Chris Williams:

No injury involved here, it wasn’t a traumatic – ?

Jessica Cox:

No, nothing traumatic. It was a genetic nothing that anyone could have anticipated. It was a shock to my parents.

Chris Williams:

They didn’t even know from ultrasounds or anything like that? There was no early notice for them?

Jessica Cox:

No. Actually, the sonograms came back all negative, didn’t show any signs of birth defect.

Chris Williams:

Wow. That’s fascinating. So, siblings, you have brothers and sisters that you grew up with?

Jessica Cox:

I do have an older brother and a younger sister.

Chris Williams:

Growing up as a kid, when did you kind of wake up to the fact that hey, maybe I’m not like they are. Was that always there? Did you realize it one day?

Jessica Cox:

Not necessarily for my family because they just accepted me as I am, but I think it was probably the outside world reacting to me that brought this awareness at a very early age. Probably two or three years old, maybe even younger. You’d be surprised on how we pick up thing even as babies and toddlers. Just that reaction from people when people would push me in a shopping cart at the grocery store, I’d be sitting in the little seat and she’d be bombarded with questions or stares or comments like “Oh poor little girl” and she’d respond “Don’t feel sorry for her, she’ll be just fine”. That type of environmental interaction, I think, is what brought the awareness that something’s different about me. This is not normal, the way people are reacting to me and then I started to wonder, why am I different?

Chris Williams:

What was middle school – I’ve got five kids, two of them are smack in the middle of middle school and it’s a tough grade, it’s a tough grade for everybody. What was that stage in life for you with something that you couldn’t really hide or stuff in your backpack or wear a hat down low or whatever.

Jessica Cox:

Obviously, I had to come to terms very quick. I couldn’t hide away, but I did have prosthetics for 11 years and I often talk about how wearing prosthetics, in a way, it normalized me but after 11 years, first day of eighth grade, I was 14 and I decided I would leave them behind and walk to the bus stop without them. I felt lighter and free and more me, the person that God created me to be. When I walked on the bus, the bus door shut and I promised I would never wear them again. To this day, they remain in the closet.

Chris Williams:

Oh that’s cool. I love that mentality. Just going for it. Taking you to the street. That’s fantastic. Okay, so you’ve grown up, you’re an adult now, you’ve taken something that many people would say “Oh no” and you’ve actually used it to present so much good to so many people.

Question 4 – How are you using hope today? What are you doing to deliver hope either to yourself or to the world around you?

Jessica Cox:

I think that my situation and my not having arms is truly a gift for hope and not just hope for other people, but there’s this wonderful exchange when you provide hope for someone. There’s something mutually special that transpires. You meet someone, I’m at the post office, I’m pulling mail out of my postal box and someone sees me reaching in with my purse, with my key with my foot and grabbing the key out with my right foot and turning the lock of the postal box and opening it up and grabbing the mail with my foot all while standing in one leg. They see that and it really stops them. For that very special moment in their day, it’s a little bit of hope that they see. When I realized that just by me doing the everyday ordinary things that I’ve been doing for now 32 years, because I’m 32, it has been something special for someone. That is something that is a true gift that I had to realize and it took so many years to realize it, but I realized that’s something special that I have and I get to do it every single day. From driving the car and people catching a glance of my foot on the steering wheel to pumping up gas in my car at the gas station, it’s giving people hope and I truly embrace it as a gift now, but it was journey to get there.

Chris Williams:

When did it become a gift versus a burden? Was there a time that it flipped or was there a gradual process?

Jessica Cox:

It was a gradual process that came with self acceptance like I shared the story of leaving the prosthetic arms behind and realizing that this could be something that is special. This is something that could be happy. It doesn’t have to be a drudgery. All those years of trying to hide my difference, I look back at them now and I think if I could have told myself as a young child, enjoy this, this is a wonderful gift, it would have been nice if I had been able to do that.

Chris Williams:

It’s all about action steps that really I can take or that anybody listening can take. Just really being authentic here, this is not about me putting interviews together or a podcast together that everybody else can do something better with, it really is me. I have to change. I have to do something and I think anybody listening, if you’re going to be honest with yourself and get somewhere, you have to do something. So Jessica tell me, how can I change?

Question 5 – If I’m going to have a simple 1,2,3 step, something like that, to start building hope in my life or in someone else’s life, what would you say that I should do?

Obviously you don’t know me, but I have a physical disability, I’m sure that that could happen someday, but for me it’s history of depression and very dark suicidal tendencies in my past and some trauma back there that I wish I could get out of my head and not deal with. I wonder if it makes me different or if people found out what would they say. The stuff that happened to you automatically people found out, but I’m scared to let my secrets out sometimes and heal. What do I do next?

Jessica Cox:

I would say the first thing is to embrace who you are and that’s the good, the bad, everything. It’s just truly to come to that self-acceptance and start with that because if we are always running away from who it is we are, the challenges that make up the person we are, then that denial is going to make it more difficult and actually takes more to you than to embrace and accept who we are. So, start with that acceptance. Self-acceptance, embracing who it is we are, the challenges, the positive, the negative and everything, embracing that.

The second step is growth and to do the best to bring the positive out of the negative and to grow as a person in being able to embrace that which is negative and turn it into a positive thing.

Third is to be the confident person that we are and see how it will affect the lives of people around us on a daily basis even when we don’t even intentionally try to affect people. But we will see, once we’ve embraced and accepted who we are, once we’ve grown and we’ve been able to turn that which is bad into something that’s good, we will be changing lives and giving hope in ways that we won’t even know.

Chris Williams:

So, I need to embrace who I really am, no hiding from myself really and then second, start growing through that process. So, great I might need to change some things or address some things or reconcile some things in my own heart, but I need to start doing that. Then three, be bold with that and live that out in front of other people. I’m sure there’s some proper scope with how open you get with different people at different times, but nonetheless start opening up and letting people see me because I think what you’re saying is it helps me grow, it helps me embrace myself more but also will help them grow and embrace themselves more as well. Is that true?

Jessica Cox:

Yes.

Chris Williams:

That’s really good advice. You’ve got a unique perspective on the world. How would you tell someone without a physical disability to interact with someone who has a physical disability? I think that’s a really common question. You tell your kids don’t stare, you look the other way, do you make eye contact, do you help them get the door, do you not? There’s all those social questions that come up. How do we interact with somebody who’s had to work on a physical disability?

Jessica Cox:

Just as I mentioned the importance of authenticity and being real, it’s equally as important when you’re interacting with someone who may make you feel uncomfortable. Maybe you’re not sure how to react. The first thing to do is just be real with that person. Ask them questions, let them know you know and this is a little awkward, but when I went in to give you a handshake which happens to me all the time, I didn’t know what to do. Be honest. When that person told me that two days ago, I said well thank you for admitting to me you felt a little awkward about the handshake because I don’t have hands to shake yours with. Just be upfront if you have a question. Some people obviously are going to be different. People with disabilities, who acquired disabilities from trauma, they may not want to bring up their disability, but be aware of that and just treat them with love and treat them the way you would want to be treated. Don’t look past them, don’t disregard them, don’t pretend you didn’t see them. Just interact with them in a very human way and you’ll be surprised how much they will open up to you.

Chris Williams:

That’s helpful. I think there are so many things that we want to ask lots of people, not just with physical disabilities, but I really want to ask World War II veterans, what happened when I see somebody that’s 80 years old with a World War II hat on, but I don’t know if I should. Somebody who’s just been through a recent divorce or somebody who you know, their child is struggling with addiction, we usually pull back and don’t say anything. I agree. For me, in my story, the people around me who know that’s going on in my past, it’s always helpful when somebody says “Hey, what’s going on? Talk to me”.

Jessica Cox:

That’s true.

Chris Williams:

What strikes me talking to you is the difference in your life and my life and how many things you’ve checked off the bucket list, we’ll call it, and how many of those things I want to check off my bucket list and yet I haven’t found the time or put the energy into it. I’m assuming it would take me a little less time, a little less energy, but your determination level is higher. It’s almost like your path in life has given you strength that most people don’t have. Does that make sense?

Jessica Cox:

I agree. Determination is a muscle and the more we use it, the better we get.

Chris Williams:

How do you teach that kind of determination to someone who doesn’t have a need to exercise it everyday?

Jessica Cox:

Well, I think it starts with having a challenge. If it’s someone who doesn’t have a physical challenge, continually stretching that person to do something different that may seem difficult at first, but taking it one step at a time and they’re able to figure out how to do it, but most importantly learn what it means to be determined.

Chris Williams:

Jessica, from what I understand you speak publicly as well. You do a lot of motivational speaking and teaching, so tell me about that. Where do you speak and what kind of topics do you cover and obviously you have a phenomenal story. How do you do that?

Jessica Cox:

I’ve spoken in 20 different countries on all continents. So, I’ve spoken in Pentagon, I’ve had the opportunity to speak in a lot of different special places like the World Economic Forum and for me speaking is a gift that I’m able to share with other people. When they hear my story they think that if she can do that without arms, if she can fly an airplane without arms, then there isn’t anything that should stop me from doing what I want to do.

Chris Williams:

That’s a really great message and I’m glad that you’ve been able to influence some of our world’s most public leaders with your words. Thank you.

Jessica Cox:

Thank you.

Chris Williams:

We ask this to everybody, this is not one of the five questions but it’s fun to find out. Jessica, what do you listen to when you need to kind of get the clouds out of your head and get the sunshine in your mind? What are you going to pop in the MP3 player or whatever you use?

Jessica Cox:

Oh wow, I love that question. For me I think it would be a Christian song. Faith has been huge for me and it’s something that I connect with. So, if I’m ever having a really bad day, I’ll put in on the car ride or wherever I am, I’ll play something from a Christian CD and it really does change my attitude. I mean not immediately, but over time it helps me change the perspective.

Chris Williams:

Awesome. So, do you have a particular artist or song there you want to mention?

Jessica Cox:

No, I don’t have a particular artist or song, but I have it all so I can’t say I have a favorite.

Chris Williams:

Okay, I hear you. But the theme of Christian music, faith-based music for you that’s really just going to really just get your mind back in the direction that it needs to be or where you’re focused on, truth not, just the feeling that happens to pop in your head?

Jessica Cox:

Yes.

Chris Williams:

Got it. Makes a lot of sense. Where can we find you? I see here on this piece of paper infront of me that there are some great website and social media links, just rattle a few of those off for the people who are listening and don’t have the chance to get back to their computer.

Jessica Cox:

The first one, rightfooted.com. I am right-footed, if you’re wondering. The second one, I’m working on a book, it’s called Disarm your limits and you can find that on rightfooted,com or jessicacox.com. One word.

Chris Williams:

Facebook? Twitter?

Jessica Cox:

All of those social media sites, just search for Jessica Cox.

Chris Williams:

We will do it and I will have these in the show notes as well. If we could ask these five questions about hope to anybody in the world, who would you want to hear answer the questions?

Jessica Cox:

That would be cool if you had the president on. That would be neat.

Chris Williams:

Obama?

Jessica Cox:

Yes.

Chris Williams:

Great. I’ll call him up. Who else?

Jessica Cox:

Pope Francis.

Chris Williams:

Pope Francis. A lot of people have mentioned him.

Jessica Cox:

Yes.

Chris Williams:

Good. Okay. Thanks Jessica.

Jessica Cox:

Okay. Thank you.

You’ve just listened to I Share Hope. If you’re ready to make a change, head to our website at isharehope.com and claim your free copy of the Top Ten Actions of Hope from World Leaders to use hope in your own life. Thanks for listening and we’ll talk to you next time.

Chris Williams:

Jessica…

Jessica Cox:

Hi.

Chris Williams:

How are you?

Jessica Cox:

Good. How are you?

Chris Williams:

Very well. It’s good to talk to you.

Jessica Cox:

Good to see you. I saw you reaching for your Starbucks. I just had mine.

Chris Williams:

Oh yeah. I’m like annoyingly green. Annoyingly green. If you talk to my wife she’d be like, oh my goodness he’s a nut. So, this is my Starbucks cup that’s probably two months old now and I refill it with water or juice or whatever I’m having that day and I end up going to Starbucks two or three times a week to which I probably shouldn’t, but I love seeing how long I can make a cup last.

Jessica Cox:

Yes. No kidding, well that’s great because I just drank mine in like 10 minutes. I’m all wired up and ready.

Chris Williams:

Obviously there’s a million questions that my 4-year-old brain has, like what’s the hardest thing you’re working on, mastering right now with your feet?

Jessica Cox:

Which is tying my hair to ponytail.

Chris Williams:

Are you working on it for real?

Jessica Cox:

Yes. I’ve been working different ways of doing it.

Chris Williams:

So are you barefoot all the time or do you wear shoes when it’s cold?

Jessica Cox:

I don’t like wearing shoes and right now I’m barefoot and the moment I walk in the house, I take my shoes off.

Chris Williams:

So you go to the post office to get your mail out of the post office box and you’re standing on one foot, reaching on the PO box with the other foot. Do you take off your shoes right there in the post office or did you walk in barefoot?

Jessica Cox:

No. I wear my shoes in to protect my feet from getting dirty and then I take my right shoe off, keep the left foot on, left shoe on the left foot, and then just use my right foot when it’s out of the shoe. Do all that.

Chris Williams:

Okay, so now you’re at the restaurant eating dinner, no shoes, no shirt, no service, the whole little thing at the door. How do you deal with that?

Jessica Cox:

Well, I take off my shoes when it’s time to grab a hold of that fork and I have no hesitation and I guess if anyone ever complains, I’ll say well this is what I’m given.

Chris Williams:

The hardest thing that you’ve had to get past somebody saying no, you cant.

Jessica Cox:

Well to me I’ve been able to turn no, you can’t to yes, I can and watch me.

Chris Williams:

Alright. So, the next thing on the bucket list. You’ve got the airplane, the car, the taekwondo black belt, you’ve got all these stuff going for you. What’s the next big thing you’re trying to check off your list besides tying a ponytail?

Jessica Cox:

I used to say rock climbing, but I tried that a couple of years ago and then I used to say sky diving, but I did that on my birthday. I guess I have to say doing the sky dive without any help, without a tandem instructor with me.

Chris Williams:

So you’re extremely flexible? I mean if you’re doing ponytail work, then you can get those feet wherever they need to go, right?

Jessica Cox:

Yes.

Chris Williams:

Do you do any kind of exercises the rest of us don’t do to stay limber or did just happen because of your normal range of motion?

Jessica Cox:

Everyone at that point in their life was that flexible. When you see babies and toddlers, they reach their foot and they put them in their mouth and that for me was just something I maintained out of necessity.

Chris Williams:

Do you ever fall down? Do you ever trip and fall on something, I mean I do.

Jessica Cox:

I’m only human, so yes I do and for me bracing myself when I fall, I’ve learned how to roll as well as just catching myself with my legs if I’m falling down. I’m just able to fall back. One of the things I had to learn was to fall backwards instead of forward.

Chris Williams:

What’s one of the funniest moments you’ve had dealing with life the way you deal with it?

Jessica Cox:

Well I just love those reactions I get. The first time I rented a car from rental car office which with an unrestricted driver’s license, they had no – they can’t stop me from renting a rental car but those reactions were some to remember.

Chris Williams:

That’s great. You’ve got a great opportunity to blow some people’s minds.

Jessica Cox:

Oh yeah.

About Chris

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